7 neighborhood rules that can get you fined—or arrested

Real estate, Money

Who would have thought than an unattractive lawn could land you in jail? But that’s exactly what happened in 2008 to Joseph Prudente, a 66-year-old Florida man who spent a day in jail for letting brown patches grow in his yard.

A man’s home may be his castle, but that does not mean homeowners can do whatever they please on their property. They must follow city and county ordinances and any applicable homeowners association or neighborhood regime rules. The consequences of failing to follow these rules can be severe; violating city and county ordinances can lead to steep fines and potential jail time, and ignoring HOA rules can lead to liens and eventual foreclosure.

To prevent that from happening, you need to know what you can and can’t do. Here are 7 more things that, depending on where you live, can get you in trouble.

1. Painting your home the wrong color

Your HOA may have strict rules governing the color of your house, and many associations will require the board or its architectural committee to approve the color before you break out the brushes.

Oftentimes, color restrictions don’t stop at paint. One Celina, Texas, couple was fined by their HOA and told to stop repairs on their roof because the shingles they selected were “too brown.”

2. Painting your playground set the wrong color

Yes, seriously. Apparently, one HOA in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, doesn’t like the color purple and is threating to file suit against a family over their colorful background play set. (What, don’t kids find beige fun anymore?)

3. Washing your car in your driveway

Californians have it rough. While suffering through another devastating drought this year, many residents are being told to water their lawns in accordance with HOA rules, despite needing to follow the state’s laws against wasting water, which were put into place during last summer’s drought. These laws make it a criminal offense to waste water on maintaining yards, hosing down driveways, or washing cars without a nozzle on the hose. The laws come with a maximum $500-a-day fine for violators.

4. Parking certain vehicles outside your house

Boats, recreational vehicles, and campers can annoy the neighbors and be a real eyesore, which is why many cities and neighborhoods have strict ordinances against parking them in driveways. But one Syracuse, New York, couple got in trouble with their HOA last winter for parking their pickup truck in their driveway, which is surely going too far.

5. Having junk on your lawn.

In April, a man in Ogden, Utah, was told to clean up the junk in his yard within 15 days or pay a fine of $125; that junk was a cardboard box fort he built for his kids.

But more often than not, people who violate city code by having junky yards really do have junk, though some have their reasons: a 79-year-old veteran from Clover, South Carolina, for example, said he collected junk to resell to pay for household bills and medication for his sick wife. When he didn’t clean it up after being ordered to by a judge, he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Earlier that year, also in South Carolina, a woman served 6 days of a 10-day jail sentence over her junk-filled yard.

(Junk inside the house—or hoarding—generally isn’t illegal, although some places, like Houston, Texas, have begun to pass ordinances against it. Animal hoarding violates animal cruelty laws and is illegal in all 50 states.)

6. Painting your fence

One Warrenville, Illinois, woman hired an artist to paint a section of her fence to discourage gangs from tagging it. She eventually ended her so-called “experiment” after her HOA raised the fine for keeping the painted fence to $100 per month.

7. Building a pool without permission

$100 per month for a fence is nothing compared to the $2,000-per-day fine one West Linn, Oregon, couple faced for building a pool without permission. The couple, who claimed they were assured by the former mayor that a permit was just a formality they could sort out later, eventually decided to remove the $100,000 pool rather than pay the $72,000 fine to keep it.

But it’s not just traditional in-ground pools that are a problem; some communities outlaw above-ground pools. One community even accidentally outlawed inflatable pools earlier this summer due to poor wording of a rewritten ordinance.

Facing one of the issues above? Speak with an attorney directly for legal advice on your situation.

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